February 10, 2011 | 8:10am
The solar dish at Riverpoint Solar Research Park
Photos by E. Groves
When you're driving along the I-10 East toward the Broadway curve, you may see a giant dish off to the side of the freeway, pointed at the sky. The Arizona Department of Transportation
estimates that approximately 239,000 vehicles pass by this dish every day, yet most people have no clue what it is.
The massive dish is covered in bronze solar panels, and looks large enough to send messages into outer space. But it's really a means of storing and generating solar power. The dish is part of an 18-acre test site called the Riverpoint Solar Research Park, an award-winning project launched by Southwest Solar Technologies president Herb Hayden.
The site officially opened on January 13, 2011. The 75-foot diameter solar dish off the I-10 is one of many located throughout the Valley as part of the project. Each dish generates 200 kilowatts of power, and works by using turbine engines to take in compressed air heated by the sun, and then blowing the air out the back.
The goal of Riverpoint Solar Research Park is to generate renewable energy. They're currently testing new solar dishes that will provide one megawatt of solar energy and storage. The project also acts as a non-profit training industry, in conjunction with the University of Arizona and the University of Phoenix.
Despite resembling something out of a sci-fi movie, the solar dish at Riverpoint Solar Research Park has already received accolades for being economical and eco-friendly. The project was recently recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy, which gave Riverpoint one of its "Solar America Showcase" awards.